Idris Elba talks to loaded about Pacific Rim, becoming a director, and how The Wire changed everything…
Here’s a movie premise that pretty much sells itself -giant robots and aliens smashing seven shades of shit out of each other.
It’s little wonder the fanboys were creaming their anoraks at the mere thought of Pacific Rim, the super-sized monster smackdown that trampled into cinemas earlier this year and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this month.
But there was another reason to get excited about Pacific Rim. Was it director Guillermo del Toro, the undisputed king of modern monster movies? No. Was it lead actor Charlie Hunnam? No, although he is, like, such a babe. Or was it former EastEnder Robert Kazinsky, doing his bestest Australian accent? No, most certainly not [honestly, if you want a crap soap star who sounds Aussie, Toadfish is your man). The real reason to get excited was the presence of Britain’s coolest cat – Mr Idris bloomin’ Elba.
Elba, star of The Wire, Luther, Thor and upcoming biopic Mandela, is one of those special talents – the kind of actor who comes along once in a generation, oozing charisma, acting his little socks off, and being all double-hard while he’s at it. In Pacific Rim he plays the brilliantly named Stacker Pentecost, an old grizzled general who leads a team of Jaeger’ pilots – Jaegers, of course, being the giant robots used to fight off the 100ft aliens invading earth. Stacker is moody, blunt and uncompromising, a combination of character traits that the future James Bond [you can hold us to that – we have a fiver on it) has down to a fine art. Even so, the scale of Pacific Rim is enough to leave even the steeliest of talents awestruck.
I remember doing this massive rain scene,” he tells loaded. I’m watching this Jaeger fall out of the sky. It was a massive stage built at the top of this roof. It felt so real.”
It doesn’t sound very real – raining giant robots, hallelujah – but Elba brings a sense of grounded gravitas to everything he’s in. You only have to look at the BBC’s blistering crime-drama Luther, one of the most exciting things on British telly since… well, for bloody ages. It’s also been hugely popular – a testament to Elba’s stunning lead performance as DCI Luther. As expected, this year’s third series proved another hit with audiences, despite being off TV screens for almost two years previously.
I was very nervous at the time,” he says.
I was thinking, Oh, I am not sure that the audience is going to go with it,, but they did. The first episode of the new series got between five and seven million viewers. It was on a Tuesday – there was nothing else on, mind you, but we got a great response.”
While the show’s premise is familiar territory hardened cop tracks down clever-clogs murderer – it’s Luther himself who takes it to the next level. A revered officer of the Serious Crime Unit, Luther is consumed by his work, the horror of which often gives rise to his own personal demons. It’s clear that Elba feels a special connection with his onscreen alter-ego.
The character is big,” says Elba. He is not your typical English gent, but yet he is.
He goes after horrible, horrible people, and as audiences we’re fascinated watching and observing him. He’s a cop who’s equally as horrible when he goes after you. That’s the appeal.”
Luther might be a true force of nature, but he still needs someone to look out for him, making sure he maintains the elements that are so key to his popularity. And who better to look out for Luther than the man who plays him? Coming on board as a producer later in the series, Elba set out to protect the integrity of both the character and the show, or what he calls Lutherisms’. Speaking as one of life’s simple plebs, loaded feels compelled to ask the question – what the devil are Lutherisms?
Everything from the type of actors that come into the show to the type of camera work,” he tells us.
I say quite a bit, That doesn’t feel very Luther -but this does.’ I love to act but I also love the logistics of pulling it together, and watching great film-makers and actors making it happen. I’d like to direct more than produce, but being a producer is quite a satisfying thing.”
The move from actor to director is a familiar one – throughout entertainment history there have been scores of big names that made the transition. There’s obviously something about the prospect of spreading those creative wings that is irresistible to some actors. And Elba – also an accomplished and experimental musician – already has a head start, having directed a video for warble-core folkers Mumford & Sons and an episode of TV drama series Playhouse Presents.
All this brings us back to monster mash-up Pacific Rim, in which Elba worked with one of the industry’s most beloved directors, Guillermo del Toro. With such brilliant films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy under
This sizable belt, del Toro has proved himself as one of the fantasy genre’s most visionary talents. For any budding director wanting to learn the film-making ropes, del Toro is a handy man to have around.
From Guillermo I learned how to make a big film,” says Elba. It’s quite impressive, but you get the same satisfaction by getting to know the crew. I realise that I find myself really attracted to crews, and I get to know them, because they’re the ones doing the work. The directors only tell them what to do, so for me, getting to understand who my crew is helps me get one step closer.”
In addition to a talented crew – and you only have to glance at the impressive visuals of Pacific Rim to see just how talented they are -Elba got to rub shoulders with some exciting young stars, including Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Hunnam, who made his name on hit biker show Sons Of Anarchy.
Charlie Hunnam and I go back a little bit,” says Elba. We got on really well. He has a TV show where he is an iconic character and I had a TV show where I was an iconic character. We were just sharing our experiences.”
Ah, of course… that TV show. You know, the one that’s arguably one of the best ever and made Elba an international star. The one we simply call The Wire [mainly because that’s what it’s called). Like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, it’s the kind of series that wallops you round the mush without warning – a combination of inspired writing, phenomenal acting, and hard-edged tension. For an actor, it’s absolute gold, especially when you get a plumb role like Stringer Bell, one of TV’s truly great drug kingpins.
I knew the writing was special,” says Elba, and I knew that with them trying to tackle a problem like that on a major HBO show, it had to have some legs. It turns out that it really has had legs! It changed my life, of course. I blame it all on The Wire.”
There’s really no need to blame anyone, Idris. In fact, we’ll be thanking The Wire if anything. After all, by the time you’ve slipped into the tux for your first Bond movie, we’ll be a fiver up.
Idris Elba: Pacific Rim Photo Gallery
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